The smell of melted butter rises from the hot pans as a couple dozen residents of De Pelster, a retirement home on Pelsterstraat, take their seats in their spacious dining room. In hungry anticipation, they’re waiting to dig in to a pile of cheesy pancakes baked by volunteers from SIB, the city’s largest international student organisation, headquartered just a few metres down the street.
‘We want our members to burst out of their international student bubble and experience the multifaceted nature of the real Groningen and its residents’, says Kristan Otten from SIB’s board and one of the lead organisers of the volunteering event. ‘And what’s easier and more Dutch than pancakes?’
International relations student Nina from Germany helps a resident to sugar and syrup as she tries to make conversation in Dutch. ‘This way I can learn something new of the country’, she explains. Nina thinks foreign students might miss out on many things if they don’t make an effort to speak at least basic Dutch.
Kristan is aware that some student associations might have a bad reputation in the city, but he wanted to prove to his neighbours that not all students are ‘loud drunkards. We can be cute, too.’
Liberal arts student Anne Roos laughs out loud as she drops a pancake on the floor in a desperate attempt to flip it. Next to her stands Florentina, the oldest active member of SIB at the age of 25. ‘I came to check out my future home’, she says jokingly. Florentina always wanted to get to know her neighbours better. ‘And now we can finally do it.’
Jenny (72) wears an elegant red scarf and casually chats to a volunteer. ‘It’s good to talk to young people. It brings back memories of my childhood’, she says in fluent English. The former doctor thought it was not possible to discuss politics or culture with today’s youth. ‘But I was wrong. These are good, clever people.’
Pelster caretaker Dieneke Schipper rejoices in the happy faces around her. ‘This job is my life. When SIB pitched this event to me, I could not say no’, says Dieneke, also known as ‘the lady for entertainment’ among residents. She thinks evenings like this help the residents get away from their daily routines and give them a chance to catch up with a different generation.
The dining hall starts to empty as the rejuvenated and smiling residents make their way to their rooms. Laughter fills the air amid friendly handshakes and cleaned-up plates. A lady in a wheelchair stops by Dieneke. Smiling ear to ear, she taps Dieneke on the shoulder and says: ‘Gezellig!’